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Despite all this evidence, the Obama administration believes that the Muslim Brothers are “moderates” that can be integrated into a democratic government and restrained by electoral accountability. Only by ignoring the words of Muslim Brothers spokesmen could Obama nourish such a delusion. Consider a 2010 address by Muslim Brothers Supreme Guide Muhammad al-Badi’: “The Muslim nation has the means [to bring about] improvement and change . . . It knows the way, the methods, and the road signs, and it has a practical role model in Allah’s Messenger, [the Prophet Muhammad] . . . who clarified how to implement the values of the [Koran] and the Sunna at every time and in every place.” Al-Badi’ is clear about how this “change” will be brought about: Muslim regimes “crucially need to understand that the improvement and change that the [Muslim] nation seeks can only be attained through jihad and sacrifice and by raising a jihadi generation that pursues death just as the enemies pursue life.” These remarks reflect the Muslim Brothers draft platform of 2007, which proclaimed that “Islam is the official state religion” and “the Islamic shari’a is the main source for legislation.”
Equally suggestive of illiberal Islamic doctrine as the likely inspiration for a future Egyptian government is the increasing violence against the Coptic Christian minority. In 2011, 80 Christians have been killed and scores of churches attacked. Yet such violence should not surprise us, given the sectarian intolerance expressed by Egyptian clerics. Sheik Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Cairo’s prestigious Al Azhar University and a “moderate” for many in the West, has called Christians “infidels,” those “who declare God is the Christ, son of Mary.” And he quotes Koran 9:29: “Fight … the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] until they pay the Jizya [tribute] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” Such faith-sanctioned intolerance and violence are incompatible with a pluralistic democracy that respects the rights of all individuals regardless of sect or creed.
Given this Islamist perspective, the soothing words of moderation and non-violence currently coming from the Muslim Brothers may represent a temporary tactical deception necessary until their power can be consolidated and their true aims pursued. And such deception is apparently working. According to the January 4 New York Times, the Obama administration is seeking “to forge closer ties” with the Muslim Brothers, accepting “the Brotherhood’s repeated assurances that its lawmakers want to build a modern democracy that will respect individual freedoms, free markets and international commitments, including Egypt’s treaty with Israel.” To this end, Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and ambassador to Egypt Anne W. Patterson, have met with top leaders of the Muslim Brothers’ Freedom and Justice Party, thus legitimizing an organization whose fundamental tenets are hostile to our interests and security, and whose self-proclaimed goal is “eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within, and sabotaging its miserable house.” Despite a historical record of misreading Islamic revolutions, starting with Iran in 1979, our foreign policy establishment continues to believe the tactical deceptions and soothing assurances of groups who despise us, but who want our money and good will as they consolidate their power and influence.
The Western response to the Arab Spring reflects the failure of imagination that blinds us to the powerful role of Islam in Middle Eastern culture and society. Hence France’s preeminent scholar of political Islam, Olivier Roy, has proclaimed that in Egypt, “This is not an Islamic revolution,” and claims that those who overthrew Mubarak “do not see in Islam an ideology capable of creating a better world.” Likewise the Carnegie Endowment’s Marwan Muasher: “Islam as a solution is not enough for them; people want jobs and better lives and will demand results.” And the Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Kaminski writes, “When the state isn’t hostile to religion, ideological Islam isn’t a bankable political issue. Elections usually turn on more pedestrian matters.” These analyses reflect the dominant narrative explaining the Arab Spring mentioned earlier: that the same lack of political freedom and economic opportunity and development that bred terrorist organizations and violence has now led to the overthrow of the dictators and the beginning of democratic regimes. In a pluralistic democracy, so the claim goes, doctrinaire Islamist parties will not be able to deliver these material boons, and the voters will punish their failure, leading to either the Islamists’ marginalization, or their moderation of their ideology in order to win votes.
This interpretation, however, assumes the secular West’s understanding of religion as a Marxian “opiate” that compensates for a lack of material goods. It also depends on a false distinction between traditional Islam, which is supposedly compatible with liberal democracy, and a presumably heretical Islamism given traction by a lack of political participation and economic development. But traditional Islam has always been thoroughly political, and the melding of state and religion has always been central to Islamic and Islamist politics alike, given the belief that Islam provides a complete, divinely bestowed blueprint for political, religious, social, and economic order. That’s why a program like the Muslim Brothers’ has wide support among Muslims across the region. Given this broad sympathy, the trade-offs and compromises that arise from sharing power in a consensual, pluralistic government are not likely to lead Islamist parties to moderate their claims for the priority of Islamic doctrine and law. It is more likely that Islamist participation in democratic institutions is a temporary tactic in the long-term strategy of creating an Islamic government similar to that in Iran.
If the trends of 2011 continue, the outcome of the Arab Spring will resemble the legacies of the Iranian Revolution and the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan by the mujahidin: the Islamist Winter of more power, influence, and prestige for an ideology fundamentally and violently hostile to American interests and ideals.
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